Mission to Grenada: Turning broken bones into blessings

Dr. Blanchard, Renee Lyons, Dr. Bowen and Andy Lyons
From left: Dr. Kendra Blanchard, Renee Lyons, Dr. Garvin Bowen and Andy Lyons. Both physicians in February treated Renee after she broke her ankle and arm.]

Editor’s Note: The following was written by Andy Lyons, director of corporate communications and content strategy for Roper St. Francis Healthcare. He and his wife traveled to Grenada in early September with Orthopedic Physician Assistant Ali Swanson and members of the non-profit she founded called Partners 4 Global Health. This story explains why.

My wife’s ankle snapped in three places the second she slipped on gravel in front of our vacation rental in Grenada.

It was bad. Bone protruded through her skin. I ran into the street to flag down a local taxi driver who jumped out, looked down, whispered an expletive, scooped her up and sped through traffic-packed narrow streets to the hospital. When we screeched to a halt, a nurse looked at her ankle and winced. She asked when we planned to leave the country. I said in two days. “You’re going to be here longer than that.”

Renee Lyons’ ankle xray
An X-Ray of Renee Lyons’ ankle the night she fell. She also fractured her arm.

No Amputation

When an orthopedic doctor examined Renee the next day, she offered a sobering and measured verdict.

“The leg can be saved,” Dr. Kendra Blanchard said. “No amputation.”

Why are we talking about amputation? I would learn doctors remove limbs in Grenada, more often than in the U.S. A lack of medical supplies precludes them from complicated surgeries.

We wanted to return to the U.S. for surgery, but Renee was in no shape for travel. Renee was given very little to numb the pain, and she was suffering. And yet in the face of tragedy, something miraculous happened. The people of Grenada helped us. They showed compassion. They were kind.

St. George’s General Hospital doesn’t provide bed sheets, yet a patient technician found those. When I ran out of local currency to buy Renee water, a local women in the waiting area gave me cash. I tried to give her the change back and she said: “No, you need it.” When I needed to buy Renee food, a stranger drove me. When we administered the only dose of blood thinner prior to our flight home and then that flight was canceled, a resident gave me a bottle of aspirin out of his work truck to help thin Renee’s blood and prevent a clot. I tried paying, but he too waved that off. “You need it.”

That cab driver who rushed Renee to the hospital is named Flow Kembasha. He checked on Renee and me in the days and months after her fall. He’s our friend. More about Flow later.

For a couple of days, Renee and I thought we would never leave the country. Plus, how could I get her on an airplane when I couldn’t even locate a wheelchair?

Renee is wheeled to our flight to Miami
Renee is wheeled to our flight to Miami in February after breaking her ankle and arm.

The day I overpaid for one, nurses discharged Renee from the hospital, and that’s when Dr. Garvin Bowen approached me. Renee had only met him once, in the middle of the night, under the fog of pain. She told me: “the most gorgeous man visited, but I think I was dreaming.” Dr. Bowen said Renee had told him I work for a healthcare system in the United States and explained how the hospital’s orthopedic drill was not operating properly. Could I help get them one? His ask seemed so reasonable.

When I got back, I asked. And then Roper St. Francis Healthcare — and I know it was God as well — provided not only one cordless drill, but three, as well as a charging station. These are the same Stryker series drills Roper St. Francis Healthcare uses in operating rooms. And then something more amazing happened, Roper St. Francis Healthcare and another non-profit group would provide key donations of medical equipment for Grenada — enough to fill a giant room that right now you can’t even turn around in.

Grenada helped me and Renee. God was telling me to help Grenada.

St. George’s General Hospital
St. George’s General Hospital overlooks St. George’s Bay and the Atlantic Ocean on the country of Grenada in the Southern Caribbean. The size of Grenada is 135 square miles with an estimated population of 124,523. In comparison, the city of Charleston is 128 square miles with a population of 150,000.

Just praying

Renee underwent ankle surgery by Dr. Joshua Lamb the day after she returned. The morning after surgery I exited her room on 7 Buxton at Roper Hospital and I ran into Ali Swanson, the 2017 winner of the President’s Humanitarian Award who has organized missions to Nicaragua and Honduras. I told Ali how Grenada had touched me and I gave a quick rundown of the medical equipment I noticed they need. Then she said: “Andy, I was just praying THIS MORNING that God would open up a new country to help.”

xray of Renee’s ankle
Dr. Lamb’s handiwork on Renee’s ankle

Ali has organized multiple trips to the Bluefields Region of Nicaragua to assist a hospital but has determined not to travel there at this time. Earlier this Spring, Ali and a group helped Roatan in Honduras and the surrounding islands.

The next several months just fell into place with little effort. We collected medical supplies, including beds, pillows and patient room furniture from the former Roper Hospice Cottage, along with boots from Roper St. Francis Physician Partners Orthopedics. We traveled in May to Augusta, Ga. to the headquarters of Sons of Consolation Ministries, who donated a truckload of refurbished wheelchairs, walkers and crutches. When we asked, the Roper St. Francis Real Estate office also lent space in the old Verizon building at the site of future Roper Hospital so we could house donated medical equipment and Partners 4 Global Health would no longer need to pay monthly storage fees.

“God has blessed this work from the very beginning,” Ali says. I tell people I could stumble through a doorway, fall on my face, get back up, mangle my own words, and then someone would just reply: “I have medical equipment for you.” That’s God.

Members of Partners 4 Global Health
Members of Partners 4 Global Health visit a Grenadian clinic on the island of Carriacou on Sept. 5.

Newer fishing poles

This past week, Renee and I returned to Grenada with Ali and members of Partners 4 Global Health (P4GH) to present hospital leaders with the orthopedic drills and tour the healthcare system throughout the Grenadine islands. When it comes to “access,” Grenada has got that down. The government-run healthcare system provides a clinic within three miles of every resident.

The first time I met Dr. Blanchard, I’d walked onto the hospital floor and found her and a team of doctors and nurses crowded around Renee’s bed, discussing varying clinical perspectives to determine the best approach to her care. We call that a “multidisciplinary team.” Grenada does that too. On our tours crisscrossing the country, I thought about the analogy of teaching a man to fish so he feeds for a lifetime. That saying always seemed patronizing to me. When it comes to healthcare, Grenadians know how to fish. They’re really good at it. Grenadians are incredible fishermen. Here in the United States and at specifically at Roper St. Francis Healthcare, we just happen to have newer fishing polls.

nurse manager
A nurse manager demonstrates a Pinard horn for listening to a fetus’ heart rate.

The more we met and spoke with their expert caregivers we noticed they do not have an adequate number of wheelchairs, crutches and walkers. Birthing beds featured thin, distressed mattress pads and rusting stirrups. Office furniture is broken, filing cabinets rusty. X-Ray machines deliver fuzzy images. “The caregivers in Grenada know their patients and offer amazing care,” Ali says. “What’s so touching is that the items donated are exactly what these hospitals and clinics need.”

A patient transport chair
A patient transport chair at Princess Alice Hospital in Grenada

Extension of Christ

One night we hosted a dinner for senior government and hospital officials to discuss the state of healthcare and the new partnership. Both Renee’s doctors attended. Renee’s doctors’ bosses attended. A total of 12 Grenadians showed up, including Senator Gayton J. LaCrette, the country’s Minister of Health, Wellness and Religious Affairs. It was an amazing night.

At the end of the evening, we presented the orthopedic drills to Dr. Bowen, the handsome physician who Renee thought she dreamt.

The Honorable LaCrette said so many patients receive good treatment but never return to say thank you.

“You are being the hands and feet of Jesus,” he said to us. “Thank you much for the extension of Christ you have shown.”

Everyone in the room had tears.

Andy Lyons presents Dr. Garvin Bowen with orthopedic drills that Roper St. Francis Healthcare secured for Grenada.

In the coming weeks, we will work with Grenadian government and hospital leaders about which donated medical supplies to send. We hope to ship a container to Grenada by early 2024 and return to the country.

The group will need help from teammates in organizing and inventorying medical supplies before shipment. If you would like to assist, please reach out on P4GH’s website and stay tuned to Vital Signs for volunteer opportunities.

Ask for nothing in return

On our final night in Grenada, my birthday, Renee and I had dinner with Flow Kembasha and his fiancé. Flow was the first Grenadian to offer help in the face of our tragedy. He was the taxi driver. We had the most wonderful time talking about why Renee and I love Grenada, places in the U.S. they want to visit, as well as Netflix shows we all watch.

Renee took a photo of Flow and me and I posted it on Facebook. It’s been shared 25 times so far, almost all by Grenadians.

Dr. Bowen and Andy Lyons

“It was my pleasure to be at you guys’ service,” Flow wrote in the comments on Facebook. “Ask for nothing in return because when something comes from your heart it really feels good.”

Flow helped us because we needed it.

We’re trying to do the same.